Online shoppers will soon be able to make campaign contributions with their purchases.
The Federal Election Commission ruled Thursday that a California-based company could channel rebates from its customers into the campaign coffers of candidates and the party committees. The news comes at a time when major donors are wielding increased influence because of the loosening of campaign finance laws by recent court rulings.
The launch of GivingSphere, founded by Silicon Valley-based Social Financial Inc., could multiply the number of small donors engaged in the political process. The website allows shoppers to earn cash rebates on purchases at participating retailers and use those funds for political contributions, according to a release. GivingSphere is “a hub where donors can search, bookmark and donate to their own personal ‘portfolio’ of causes.”
In a statement released by its attorneys, the company said it plans to allow contributions to all permissible types of federal political committees.
The company had sought the FEC’s permission to transmit its customers' rebates to political committees, provide its customers with a searchable database and additional information on the political committees, sell advertising space to political committees on its website and permit political committees to post a GivingSphere “badge” on their websites, according to the FEC advisory opinion.
The FEC, which gave GivingSphere the green light after an open meeting Thursday, said the company won’t be subject to any reporting requirements under the Federal Election Campaign Act.
The firm Covington & Burling, which represented GivingSphere in the matter, called the ruling a win for small donors. “The FEC has repeatedly shown that it is willing to craft rules that insure individuals can use the web to participate meaningfully in the political process,” company attorney Robert Lenhard said in a statement.
The website is expected to launch next month and could play a role in the upcoming 2012 campaign cycle. But some consultants questioned what role that will be. "I don't think it will be that much of a game changer," said Kurt Luidhardt, a GOP consultant who specializes in Internet outreach and fundraising. "Too much education of donors will be required. Online giving is an impulse buy."